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The Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has been selected to receive its first-ever education grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The three-year award of nearly $800,000 will be used to help improve the quality of STEM teaching, learning and student retention at U.S. colleges and universities.

Maura Borrego, principal investigator and mechanical engineering associate professor, said the grant will synthesize and apply knowledge about organizational change to advance the efforts of individual faculty and STEM departments who are changing their approaches to undergraduate education. It will include research and practical knowledge from experienced higher education leaders with the aim of positively impacting students at all types of undergraduate institutions.

Additionally, the grant will fund training workshops led by Borrego for university faculty members and administrators to learn to lead instructional change initiatives at their institutions. Participants can use this training to change policies and systems to encourage student retention and completion in STEM, particularly among targeted under-represented groups. The materials created for training will be made publicly available.

“Decades of educational research have proven the most effective instructional approaches to support student learning and retention, yet evidence indicates that these best practices are not used by the majority of STEM instructors,” Borrego said. “National workshops have helped faculty members learn these methods, but time pressures, reward systems and other pressures limit the impact of these workshops.”

This project will focus specifically on developing “change leaders” – change agents who will address these institutional factors to make it easier for STEM faculty to adopt better instructional approaches.

“The Helmsley Charitable Trust is proud to support the University of Texas at Austin for its commitment to cultivating a diverse network of practitioners,” said Ryan Kelsey, Program Officer of the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Education Program. “The continuous sharing and development of expertise among these individuals will enable this network to foster a set of approaches to help faculty implement and sustain research-based educational interventions at a wide array of higher education institutions.”

The launch of the Accelerating Systemic Change Network (ASCN) – a professional, interdisciplinary network for individuals and groups who are engaged in creating or studying change in undergraduate STEM education – will be partially supported by the grant and led by collaborators Charles Henderson and Andrea Beach of Western Michigan University, along with Linda Slakey of the Association of American Universities and Association of American Colleges and Universities, Susan Elrod of California State University Chico, and Borrego.

About Maura Borrego

Borrego joined UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering faculty in 2014. Her research focuses on engineering education, including change, faculty development, and retention of undergraduate engineering students. During her first year, she established the Graduate Certificate in Engineering Education for Cockrell School doctoral students interested in faculty careers, and in 2016 she was selected by UT Austin to be a Provost’s Teaching Fellow for her initiatives to improve learning. She is a past recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and an NSF CAREER award. Borrego is also deputy editor of the Journal of Engineering Education and serves on the board of the American Society for Engineering Education.

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective organizations in health, place-based initiatives, and education and human services. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grantmaking, it has committed more than $1.5 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. The Trust's Education Program seeks to advance American economic competitiveness as well as individual social mobility. In K-12, the Trust focuses on ensuring all students graduate high school prepared for college or careers by supporting teacher effectiveness and the adoption and implementation of high academic standards. In higher education, the goal of the Trust’s grantmaking is to increase the number and diversity of college graduates in STEM fields by improving persistence to graduation.

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